Fear of falling confines many seniors to the house. Professional caregivers help them remain active and engaged in the community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that the number of seniors who die from fall-related injuries has nearly doubled in the last 15 years. Clearly, falls are a serious health crisis as our nation ages. Each year, one-third of all adults older than 65 experience a fall. Falls can be a devastating event for seniors, leading to disability, an overall decline in health, a move to a nursing home, and even death.
Experts have worked hard over the past few years to raise awareness of this serious threat to senior well-being. University of Michigan researchers recently noted that seniors today are more aware of the risk of falling. That’s good news. Awareness of the risk of falls is the first step towards avoiding them.
But the downside of this awareness is that seniors sometimes develop a fear of falling that can actually lead to greater disability. It goes like this: your 80-year-old mom experiences a fall. It’s a frightening event, perhaps landing her in the emergency room or getting her admitted to the hospital. After that, Mom becomes more cautious, spending more time on the couch rather than going out for a walk. (Maybe Mom has “help” when family start to fuss over her and suggest she not be so active!) This decrease in activity causes a corresponding decrease in muscle mass and aerobic fitness—putting Mom at an even greater risk. As she becomes homebound, the resulting isolation and depression just make things worse.
To help keep their senior loved ones safe at home, many families hire professional home caregivers. One of the great benefits of home care is that it helps senior clients avoid the cycle of decline that goes with falls and the fear of falling. Home care helps seniors and families address the major risk factors for falling:
The physical changes of aging. Many common health conditions, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, balance problems, vision loss, Alzheimer’s disease and the effects of a stroke raise the risk of falling. Even the normal changes of aging make it more likely that we will fall in our later years. It sometimes seems as if a senior has a medical appointment every week! Home care professionals escort clients to medical appointments, prepare nutritious meals as prescribed by the doctor, and supervise clients as they follow the healthcare provider’s advice.
Fall hazards in the home. So many falls are caused when a senior trips over a throw rug, falls on the stairs, or slips on a patch of water in the kitchen or bathroom. Improved lighting, handrails, bathroom grab bars and other safety improvements can make your loved one’s home safer. Home caregivers also play their part by being alert to—and promptly removing—clutter, spills and other hazards that could cause a fall.
Side effects of medications. Most seniors take a number of medications to help them manage health conditions. Many health conditions increase the risk of falling, so it’s important to take those medicines as prescribed. On the other hand, some drugs increase the risk of falling by causing side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness or more frequent urination. Home care professionals can pick up prescriptions or take clients to the pharmacy. They can assist with medication management, providing medication reminders and helping clients use pill boxes and other medication organizers. And they are trained to be alert for signs of side effects and to report them promptly.
Inactivity. As mentioned above, cutting back on exercise is a huge fall risk—and leads to overall decline in health. Almost every senior can take part in some kind of exercise. Home caregivers help clients follow their healthcare providers’ recommendations for exercise. They can transport clients to a senior exercise class or to physical therapy. They provide supervision if clients are exercising at home, perhaps with a video. They help clients put on walking-safe shoes with laces. They accompany clients on walks around the neighborhood or maybe to the mall.
Self-Confidence is a Top Fall Prevention Ingredient
Having a caregiver close by encourages seniors to take charge of their fall risk and get enough exercise, secure in the knowledge that a steadying arm is available—and, worst case, if they do fall, help is readily available. The benefits aren’t only for senior clients. Family members report that their stress level goes way down when they don’t have to worry so much that Mom or Dad might have fallen again!
For a great reminder about senior fall prevention, print out this infographic from the National Council on Aging.
Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2015.